The Gospel Singer
By Sandra McHugh
There are two popular theories or myths about why Scottish and Irish names are either Mc or Mac. One myth claims that Mc is Irish and Mac is Scottish. Another theory maintains that Mc is Roman Catholic and Mac is Protestant. The latter theory is the important one that concerns the story of my great uncle, Edward McHugh or MacHugh, the Gospel Singer. Edward’s name was McHugh but when he began his singing career, he changed his name to MacHugh so that no one could possibly suspect that he was Roman Catholic, or so family legend claims.
His musical career started at the age of 26 when he left Canada to move to the U.S. to study music in Manhattan in New York City in 1919.1 He had moved to Canada from Scotland with his mother and his two brothers when he was just 19. But Edward was restless and he did not want to stay in Canada and he definitely did not want to continue working as a manual labourer for the Canadian National Railway.
It took a little while for Edward’s career to take off, but in 1927, Edward was invited to sing ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ on Boston radio station WEEI.2 The next day the station received 2,300 letters praising his baritone voice. His fame grew rapidly and, by the 1940s, Edward McHugh was a regular on NBC radio.3 By that time he wrote his name as Edward MacHugh, and his nickname was the Gospel Singer. He continued to be popular and in 1954, Billboard Magazine carried an article saying that MacHugh’s show was named as the “2nd Best of All Non-network Religious Series.”4
The first time that Edward’s name shows up as MacHugh is in the 1930 U.S. census, when he was on tour in Massachusetts.5
All of the hymns and gospel songs that he sang were Anglican, Church of Scotland, Methodist or other evangelical hymns. In 1938, he published a compilation of gospel hymns and poems. These hymns and poems were Protestant, but Edward was a Roman Catholic. Many family members believed that Edward changed his name so that no one would know that he was Roman Catholic and some thought that he did not want anyone to think that he was Irish.
Perhaps Edward made the right decision, even though the other members of his family were insulted that he had changed his name. He must have been an astute marketer.
An advertisement in Billboard Magazine, June 7, 1947 states that ‘Edward MacHugh, Your Gospel Singer, … who is said to have the most perfect diction of any singer without sacrificing warmth” is offering 15-minute radio programs and other promotional material such as newspaper mats, glossy prints, press releases, etc. 6
As the introduction to his compilation says, “The Gospel Singer prefers to live a simple, happy life …”
This is not exactly true as he lived in a large two storey house on eight acres of property in Connecticut. Even today, this would be considered an estate. Certainly Edward had carefully created an image of himself.
If you would like to hear Edward sing, here are two of his recordings:
6 The Billboard Magazine, June 7, 1947, p. 11